The miracle of Chanukah was a miracle of fire. A day’s worth flask of oil burned for eight days straight in a disarrayed and desecrated Temple. In the aftermath of bloody battle and bittersweet victory, the light of the menorah gave the Jewish people a powerful message. Now, Chanukah is a celebration of lights, a celebration of more and beyond and daring to believe. The streets shiver in the chill of Winter’s infant breaths, and it gets dark by 4:30, and when I walk to school at 6, I look out for the flickering lights framed in various windows, warm and fierce against the night.
Winter is setting in slow and painful this year. Everyone around me is a bundle of nerves. I am wild with stress and aspirations. The news rip apart our phone screens, crash onto our dinner tables, crawl into our beds with us to snuggle. I am dazed with current events and the violence and my friends’ distresses and a palpable, anxious waiting that steer many of our conversations and prey on our sleep.
Every day, there are these questions: what does it mean to be human? For me, a bit deeper: what does it mean to be Jewish? And what will I do today, with my humaness, and my Jewishness, and these 24 hours suspending me in time? There is this uncomfortable and daunting truth: today, like every day, I am responsible- solely for myself, and not for anyone else.
Chanukah is a man made holiday. It was not ordained explicitly by G-d; it was established by the Sages, right after the Jewish guerrilla fighters triumphed over the experienced Greek legions. It was during the era of the Second Temple, when the Kingdom of Judea was under foreign rule, splintered and weary and on the brink of civil war. A little more than 150 years of chaos and disintegration will pass, until the Second Temple will be burned by the Romans, and Jerusalem starved and plundered, and the Jewish people will scatter into the diaspora. As the premonition of exile began to descend and spread its brawny arms over the Jewish people, G-d lit up the menorah through miraculous means. There was a statement: there will fall night, but there will never be complete darkness.
Now, it’s dark. Now, many of us are overwhelmed and uninspired and struggling through the days that blend so effortlessly into the nights. And come every December, we reintroduce ourselves to light. We set our gloomy rooms and our tired windows aglow. We are supposed to position our menorahs by a windowsill or doorway; this is not a private experience. This is a signal, this is a declaration, a public statement, meant for an audience.
I think much of my younger self’s disappointment in Judaism was due to a misrepresented and misunderstood promise. I always wanted Chanukah- all our holidays, really- to be something special, just by being. I wanted to soak in something spiritual and holy simply by osmosis, and that never happened. There was never an epiphany while gazing at the lights, there was never some unique connection felt while eating jelly donuts, there was always something almost superficial about the traditional Chanukah gelt (money). Until I stopped passively waiting.
This year, every Chanukah party was made on a night I had school or work, and this year, half the nights I lit alone and not with my family, and this year I haven’t gotten around to having potato latkes. And this year, I found meaning in Chanukah. This year, I stepped up to the window, and I lit the wicks on fire, and I created light.
There is much said about the power and inherent holiness of the Chanukah lights. Perhaps one of their powers is that they are symbolic of our essence, of our souls. Our souls that are forever reaching heavenward, our souls that burn hot and golden inside us, our souls that brave the darkness and shatter it into pieces. This Chanukah, I thought about how G-d made the candles burn for us for 8 nights. And I think of how beautiful it is that in return, for thousand of years, we burn the candles for 8 nights- for Him. And I think about how we, too, have the power to create miracles, every day. This Chanukah, I ceased focusing on what the lights can show me, and I chose instead to focus on what I can give to the lights. And things changed.
In Jewish thought, the number 8 hints of the supernatural. The world was created in 7 days; 7 is the number of wholeness, of completion. And 8 is the number beyond that. 8 defies the norm, 8 shatters the perceptions of limitations, 8 breaks all the rules. That is one of the reasons there are 8 days of Chanukah- to commemorate the victory of the Maccabees, a victory that too, defied the natural circumstances. And I believe that we too can become an 8, we too can bend the confines constructed by Nature. Because we hold within us the animal and the Divine, and we struggle with both- a battle no other creation deals with. Our power lies within our ability to partake in both worlds and to find a beautiful balance between them, our power is transcending the natural and tapping into what lies beyond.
This is our symbol in our windows. Strike a match: all the things we are ashamed of, that we transformed into something to be proud of. See the flame: this is our perseverance- getting up every day and daring to hope, despite the disappointments, despite the losses, despite the risks. Light the wick: this is our strength- we carve hope out of tragedy, we assemble love out of pain, we plant trees in the ashes. Watch it flicker: this is the times we talk even though we are afraid, this is the times we show up even though we are tired, this is the times we forgive even though we were destroyed. For 8 nights: this is ours. This is our acknowledgement of faith and this is a reminder of our own power. This is the light we started, and held onto, and sheltered from the blow of the wind and the force of the cold. These are the miracles we make.